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God Unties the Knots of Our Hearts

Feb 04, 2016 | Erik Raymond

shutterstock_152382065Often times Christians struggle with prayer because they forget the wonderful intimacy that comes from their relationship to God. We forget the access and we forget his love.

Jesus taught us to call God our Father (Mt. 6.9) and the Holy Spirit compels our hearts to cry out to God calling him Father (Rm. 8.14-17). This new relationship of being God’s child brings a new heart cry. It is the cry of intimacy, expectation, familiarity, and love.

Recently one of my children brought me one of their running shoes. The laces were in several knots. She had obviously attempted to untie the knot herself but had only added more knots to the equation. Finally, after realizing she was outmatched, she brought the sneaker to me. She said, “Daddy, can you untie this?”

Prayer is much like this. We come to our Heavenly Father with our heart and life all tied up in an impossible knot. Our own efforts to remove the problem only compound it. So we come to him in prayer with our knotted up hearts and say, “Father, can you untie this?” He is your Father so he delights to hear. He delights to attend your greatest burdens, anxieties, needs, and fears with his mercy, grace, love and compassion. He is your Father, he delights to untie the knots of your heart.

It is this reminder that God is not only able to work in our lives but willing to do so that drives us to pray. He is the true and greater Father who would never ignore or turn away his children. He welcomes you to himself. So wear out a path to that throne of grace with your heart all in knots.

 

[photo via Shutterstock]

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Don’t Just Pray About It

Feb 03, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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There is something beautiful about the simplicity of kids. I remember after planting our first garden our little girls woke up early in the morning to run outside and see if anything had grown. After all, we had just put seeds in the ground 20 hours prior! Their eager expectation is instructive.

In the 5th Psalm we read of a believer exercising highly developed prayer reflexes. He is crying out to God. His heart is overcome with weightiness. It is the type of thing that is first on his mind as he awakens in the morning (Ps. 5.1-2). The concern, burden, anxiety, and desperation of the soul continue to bubble up within him.

What does he do? He does what is natural for the child of God. He opens the cap of his highly carbonated soul. His reflex is to pray (Ps. 5.3). He cries out to God.

But he does something else. In verse 3 we read that he also watches. This can be translated “spy” or “look out” or “keep watch.” It is the same word used in Prov. 15.3, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” The point is simple: the believer is to feel their burden, carry their burden to God, and then watch for God to work. In other words, don’t just pray about it….but look for God to work!

Much like a eager and expectant child who has dropped a seed into the ground, the believer is to look through the eyes of faith knowing that God is for them, loves them, hears them, and works all things together for their good (Rom. 8.28; 1 Pet. 5.6-8). The same heart of faith that comes to God in prayer patiently waits and watches for God to answer his prayer.

I know that I do not do this when I am doubting God’s closeness, care, power, intimacy, favor, and compassion. All of these sinful, faithless doubts were answered at the cross however. The cross of Christ is God’s declaration of his love, his pledge of closeness, his promise of intimacy, and his demonstration of compassion. As Paul rightly reasoned and concluded:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8.32)

May we have those childlike reflexes that so characterize the children of God. Let us pray, wait, and watch.

[photo via Shutterstock]

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Prioritizing Communication and Romance

Feb 02, 2016 | Erik Raymond

letterMarried couples often struggle with communication and romance. The more I think about this the more I believe that most of us don’t want to stink at this it’s just that we don’t want to be awesome at it. And as a result of a lack of prioritization here we give way to laziness, selfishness, or some distraction. We take our eyes of the ball and wonder why we drop the communication and romance ball. Good communication and romance takes effort.

As I was tending to my own heart in this area I came across this quote from Theodrick Bland. He was engaged in battle during the American Revolution and wrote his wife a beautiful letter. What survives is a virtual clinic in thoughtful, heartfelt communication from a man to his wife. Take note men. This is gold.

Writing his wife Martha in 1777 from the battlefield in New Jersey he wrote,

….my dear, when you are writing, write of nothing but yourself, or at least exhaust that dear, every dear subject, before you make a transition to another; tell me of your going to bed, of your rising, of the hour you breakfast, dine, sup, visit, tell me of anything, but leave me not in doubt of your health…Fear not, yes ‘you will again feel your husband’s lips flowing with love and affectionate warmth.’ Heaven never means to separate two who love so well, so soon; and if it does, with what transport shall we meet in heaven? (Meachem, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power), p.90

Notice how he wants the details, the particulars. He wants to enter into her narrative and see and enjoy it as he enjoys her. These details may seem mundane in our own day-to-day lives but they are not. And how can they be? They have your Love’s fingerprints and fragrance upon them! Therefore value them, ask of them, speak of them, and write of them! This will aid communication and kindle romance in your marriage.

Romance and communication never get old–even through the centuries!

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Are You Out of (Evangelism) Shape?

Feb 01, 2016 | Erik Raymond

Christians approach evangelism a lot like dieting and exercise: we are comfortable doing what we are comfortable with. Occasionally, someone says something that unsettles us. They make us uncomfortable.

In terms of our physical health, we respond by analysis and often times action. We start a diet, join a gym, or pledge to be more fit. I think of this analogy whenever I see a guy getting abused by a trainer at the gym. They look like they are going to die. It’s obvious they won’t continue (I’m not sure that they can!).

In the spiritual realm, specifically with regard to evangelism, people are convicted after they hear a sermon, read a book, or talk with a Christian friend. They pledge to be more active in evangelism. They grab some tracts, set some witnessing goals, and get set to “do-evangelism.” Then, after a few weeks they fizzle. They slide back into the posture of evangelistic passivity. Like the red-cheeked, exhausted fella at the gym: they are ready to throw in the towel.

But what if faithful evangelism didn’t involve anything extra but simply intentionally doing what you already do? (more…)

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Book Review- God’s Grand Design

Jan 29, 2016 | Erik Raymond

gods grand designI would suspect the only thing more challenging than trying to read Jonathan Edwards is to write about him. This has not stopped people from taking up the challenge however. Jonathan Edwards is arguably the greatest mind America has ever produced. Consequently there is significant intrigue into his life and thought. Myself, I have read many books on the great pastor but my appetite is never satiated. I always want more. Whenever I hear of a new book on Edwards it seems to find its way to my Amazon wish list.

God’s Grand Design by Sean Michael Lucas was no different. I was eager to get my hands on this book because it endeavored to tackle the what Edwards believed and how he applied it. In other words, the theological vision of Edwards.

The book breaks into two easy sections: Redemption History and Redemption Applied.

Throughout the course of the book you will be guided carefully by a pastor-theologian who has lectured for many years on this very subject. This fact should not scare you off, instead, it should encourage you. The author takes a glacier and puts it in a tea cup. It is accessible, understandable, and simple. Lucas is a careful teacher, working hard to make difficult concepts clear. As an example, you have the whole business of religious affections. Edwards wrote this to think through and parse out was was truly wrought by God and what was spurious in the days of the Great Awakening. In this Lucas carefully guides you through the writing in light of history, other writers, and what Edwards himself wrote in other places. As someone who has enjoyed but not fully profited from Religious Affections, I was greatly aided here.

The two appendices are excellent. One serves as a reminder of the fact that Edwards was a normal guy (helpful). And the other is a comprehensive list and thoughts on helpful books related to Edwards.

I have read biographies that I wish had more of Edwards’ theological vision in it. This book by Lucas serves to fill that gap. I recommend it alongside of Marsden’s biography on Edwards (or the shorter one by the same author).

As I mentioned, I like Edwards a lot so it was not tough to get up for the book. At right about 200 pages it went too fast. I wanted it to keep going. I am not inclined to be liberal with the praise for authors but this was one of the best books I’ve read in awhile. Even if you are not a huge Edwards guy (or girl) you will be greatly edified by the arrangement of and interaction with the theology of Edwards.

God’s Grand Design is available at Westminster | Amazon (Kindle Store also).

 

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The Privilege of Christian Friendships

Jan 27, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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Having a friend who is a Christian is a great blessing but having a Christian friendship is even better.

I know a lot of Christians. I might even say I have a lot of Christian friends. But, I don’t think I have a lot of Christian friendships. Let me explain the difference. A Christian friend is simply a friend who is also a believer. However, a Christian friendship is actually a relationship where you put into practice what believers are supposed to do.

Christian friendships regularly demonstrate forgiveness, kindness, patience, mercy, love, encouragement, grace, prayer, and sacrifice. When you look at a list like this you immediately realize that three things are required. First, we need more than one person. Second, we need a relationship that is characterized by some level of intimacy. Third, we will often need some type of challenge to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in.

Let’s briefly think about this.

We Need More than One Person

This might seem obvious but the point is missed too often. Christianity was not intended to be lived out alone or even simply in the context of one’s own family. Christianity is a religion of community. In order to apply the lion’s share of its teaching we need people around us. The Bible knows nothing of individualistic maverick Christianity. Therefore, Christian friendships involve other people.

We Need Relationships Characterized by Intimacy

In order to exhort someone day after day so they don’t fall into the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) there has to be conversation that gets beyond the weather and politics. In order to pray for one another there needs to be disclosure of struggles (Gal. 6:1-2). In order to rejoice and or weep with one another we need to know what is going on with each other (Rom. 12:15). Therefore, Christian friendships are characterized by intimacy.

We Need Some Type of Challenge to Display the Gospel’s Power

Think about how you show that the gospel is powerful. You have to forgive an offense, have patience when wronged, not grumble when others are difficult, show grace rather than vengeance, and confront rather than ignore sin. But regrettably what happens so often? People get offended by other Christians and instead of pressing in and applying the gospel they eject and preserve themselves. I am sure you can see how counterintuitive this is. Think about it. Someone has said or done something to offend you. You have a choice to make are you going to withdraw and get bitter or press in and show grace? Too many come to this place and eject rather than press in. They come right up to the wonderful place, that threshold to step over from being a Christian friend to having a Christian friendship, and they don’t step over. Instead, we should in humility take the opportunity that the challenges of sin bring in order to display the gospel’s power to heal and restore. Christian friendships display this gospel power.

Take inventory of your relationships with other Christians. Think about your relationship with your spouse (if applicable), your children (if applicable), your friends, and your church family. Are they just a bunch of other Christians that you know kind of informally or even superficially? Or are they true Christian friendships that showcase the power of the gospel?

Years ago, before I became a pastor I became sick of playing games in friendships. I told a guy that I was convicted about always talking about sports and stuff rather than things that really mattered. I confessed that I was afraid the friendship would suffer if we were real about applying the Bible. My conclusion was that if that was true about the relationship then it wasn’t a relationship worth preserving—at least not that way. The conversation went well and we decided to pursue a Christian friendship that modeled grace and humility. Though work has moved us apart, I do maintain a friendship with this brother to this day.

I would encourage you to take inventory of your relationships and to pursue Christian friendships rather than simply acquaintances. Perhaps it will require some repentance, prayer, and transparency with that brother or sister—but it is worth it. God will richly bless you and your Christian friendships. Friendships are hard to come by, when you find one, consider yourself blessed and nourish it with the Word of God.

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Having Trouble in Ministry? Just Face it. Literally.

Jan 26, 2016 | Erik Raymond

It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.

In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.

Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full-time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.

So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?

(more…)

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Prayer is what Buckles on all the Christian’s Armor

Jan 25, 2016 | Erik Raymond

prayerI really like the book Taking Hold of God. It endeavors to incite believers to pray by showcasing the faithfulness of a number of Reformed and Puritan brothers from history.

There is a chapter on Matthew Henry that I have found very helpful and convicting. Here is a sample:

Henry wrote in his diary, ‘I love prayer. It is that which buckles on all the Christain’s armour.’ Since the Christian must wear God’s armor at all times, he must pray without ceasing. According to Henry, the access that Christians have to God in Christ gives them:

(1) A companion ready in all their solitudes, so that they are never less alone than when alone. Do we need better society than fellowship with the Father?

(2) A counsellor ready in all their doubts,…a guide (Ps. 73:24), who has promised to direct with his eye, to lead us in the way wherein we should go.

(3) A comforter ready in all their sorrows…[to] support sinking spirits, and be the strength of a fainting heart.

(4) A supply ready in all their wants. They that have access to God have access to a full fountain, an inexhaustible treasure, a rich mine.

(5) A support ready under all their burdens. They have access to him asAdonai [my Lord], my stay and the strength of my heart (Ps. 73:26).

(6) A shelter ready in all their dangers, a city of refuge near at hand. The name of the Lord is a strong tower (Prov. 18:10).

(7) Strength ready for all their performances in doing work, fighting work. He is their arm every morning (Isa. 33:2).

(8) Salvation insured by a sweet and undeceiving earnest…If he thus guides us by his counsel he will receive us to glory.

Good stuff.

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Christianity is about Strength, Just Not Our Own

Jan 22, 2016 | Erik Raymond

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Living as a Christian must entail an honest reckoning of our strengths and weaknesses. Have you ever sat down and just thought about the essence of the Christian life? At its core, it truly is a pride smashing worldview. We are basically admitting that we messed it up and need a new start.

I remember as a 7th grader we would play this immature game between classes. We went to school in a building that was constructed in the late 1800’s. It had the large radiators on the sides of the room. As young (foolish) men we would grab ahold of the radiator in the wintertime and see who could hold on the longest. Sometimes guys would get real close to the pipe and not really grasp it. Veterans of the game would call them out, “Grab ahold of it!” When truly grasped, by even the strongest 12-year-old, the pipes would quickly become too hot. Pride would vanish and they would let go.

When you and I truly grab ahold to the pipe of Christianity we cannot, in our pride, hold on very long. It is simply too hot. Your pride will burn. We have to come to grips with the heat. The gospel melts our pride.

The reality is that the qualification for entry into the kingdom of God is weakness, not strength. Walk through the gospel narratives and contrast the reception that Jesus gives those who are weak with those who appear to be strong.[1] There has to be an awareness of personal weakness and Christ’s sufficiency before anyone can even begin to appreciate and understand Jesus. When questioned by the grumbling religious leaders about his methodology Jesus replied:

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

The point is clear: Jesus came for weak people who are looking for someone strong to lean upon in faith. He did not come for apparently strong people who are looking for congratulations on their awesomeness.  Therefore, whether we are talking about kingdom entrance (conversion) or kingdom living (your Christian life)—Christianity is about strength, just not our own.


[1] This contrast is seen clearly in Mark’s gospel. Weak and helpless people like lepers (1:40-45), paralytics (2:1-13), a man with the withered hand (3:1-5), the demoniac, Jairus’ daughter, and the woman with the hemmorage (5:1-43). Contrasted with the apparently strong Pharissess and religious leaders (2:1-28) and 7:1-23).

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Book Review- The Forgotten Trinity

Jan 21, 2016 | Erik Raymond

forgotten trinityThe Trinity is a doctrine that Christians understand to be very important. At the same time many do not understand it very well. See for yourself. Ask 5-6 Christians this week for a definition of the Trinity and see what you get. Why do we tolerate a lack of familiarity, understanding, and appreciation for who our God really is?

There are many great resources to help equip believers to better understand and appreciate this doctrine. One that I have enjoyed very much over the years is The Forgotten Trinity by Dr James White. In this brief and accessible book Dr White writes to familiarize readers with the biblical doctrine, walk through difficult passages, and to defend it against various Christian heresies.

If you are not familiar with Dr White he is a debater. He has debated Mormons, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and textual critics for decades. He is quite good at it also. One of the things I appreciate about James is how he seeks to understand his opponent before dismantling their argument. This requires careful and thorough study. Along with this is the ability to explain complex doctrines in an understandable way. Add to this White’s precision with the biblical languages and depth in systematic theology and you have a good recipe for a book on the Trinity.

Over the years I have read through this book with people who were looking to get a better understanding of the Trinity. In a couple of instances it stemmed from conversations with members of a cult. People in my church wanted to be better equipped. The Forgotten Trinity was quite helpful.

If you are looking to better understand, appreciate, and defend the Trinity, I suggest picking up The Forgotten Trinity by Dr White. Discounted copies are available at Amazon (kindle).

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